Hookers tend to have hearts of gold. Until they steal all your money.
While on a business trip, Edward (Richard Gere), for some reason or another, decides that he doesn’t want to spend the night alone. Instead, he wants to buy himself a hooker from off-the-street, which is, yes, dirty and not at all safe, but wouldn’t you know it? Edward gets the luck of the draw! Not only is his hooker named Vivian (Julia Roberts), but she’s as pretty as they come, even if all she does do is have sex with a bunch of middle-aged men for money. However, Edward doesn’t see the need in having sex with Vivian, because he’s all too busy being her friend, so yeah, he decides to pay for her longer, but in a consensual way. And eventually, the two start to get more and more along and understand where the others come from. But for Edward, he doesn’t fully know if he wants Vivian in his life, or he just wants someone he can connect with and go home to at night. Whereas with Vivian, she’s still not sure if she wants to continue being a hooker for the rest of her days, or settle down, start a family, and live what is, basically, the American Dream.
Decisions, decisions, decisions.
You can call Pretty Woman “iconic”, or, dare I even bother to use the term, “significant”, because of two notable features; one, it featured the occupation of a hooker as not the worst thing known to man, and showed the whole world the beautiful, bright and charming talent that was Julia Roberts. Take those two aspects from the movie, and guess what? You’ve not only got a pretty dull movie, but a pretty unmemorable rom-com, that has little, to no redeeming qualities.
But yes, Julia Roberts is quite great here, so it’s obvious that I basically have to start there. Sure, you can say that Steel Magnolias and Mystic Pizza were movies that brought Julia Roberts to plenty of eyes, but really, Pretty Woman is what brought her to the mainstream, and with good reason. Every second the camera spends with her, it can’t help but just love every second of her; her teeth-filled smile, her lovely, youthful body, her approachable, but seemingly beautiful face, and yes, even her winning charisma, are all on full-display here and it helps make this character more than just your typical “hooker with a heart of gold”. Okay, maybe not, because yes, this movie practically started that whole convention, but still, Roberts is pretty great here.
Some may still get up in arms over the fact that she got nominated for an Oscar, which, to some extent, is understandable, but at the same time, not, because, well, she makes this movie. She’s not just a bundle of charm, but she’s also smart in making this character the slightest bit likable or believable. Even if the character of Vivian is so clearly made-up and phony Hollywood drivel, Roberts still makes you want to believe that someone like her exists – someone who is just waiting on the dirty, muggy streets of some overpopulated city, doing all sorts of sexual acts for a buck and a burger, while still looking for that special someone who will, one day, sweep her off of her feet, love her for who she is, and give her everything and anything that she’s wanted.
It’s all a bunch of baloney, but hey, Roberts is good enough here that she makes us want to believe in some of it.
As for the rest of the movie, yeah, it’s all pretty lame. Most may know this already, but in case you don’t: I’m not a big fan of Richard Gere. For the most part, his performances always tend to be a bit lazy and dull when he isn’t given the right material to work with and here, nothing really changes. Granted, his character is a bit of an unlikable dope who, yes, means well, but is also so sad and pathetic that you almost wish that Vivian would find another client, who paid her more, and run away with him. Sure, Gere brings the sex-appeal for the ladies that I presume Roberts brought for the men, but there has to be a little bit more than just good-looks and a hot body, right?
Either way, Garry Marshall doesn’t seem to interested in really giving these characters anything more of a personality that goes beyond “nice person”, or “evil person”. The story wants to be a very deep and serious dramedy about the costs of life and love, but at the same time, just really feels like it’s not going anywhere. Eventually, the movie starts to make stuff up as it goes along, like a random conflict with Jason Alexander’s character, and an overworking of Gere’s character’s job. Honestly, I didn’t care for the character in the first place, so why the hell should I give a flyin’ hoot about his big-wig, high-class, corporate job? Is it because he’s ordering a hooker? Is it because he’s Richard Gere? Or, is it because Marshall knew that working with such a limited story didn’t really create much of any conflict, tension, or interest to be found at all?
I don’t know. But what I do know is that Julia Roberts may go down as, singlehandedly, the most attractive prostitute to ever grace screens.
Sorry, Divine Brown.
Consensus: Julia Roberts star-making performance is what helps allow for Pretty Woman to get through some real cracks in its story, but it’s almost not enough.
5 / 10